Dog owner in fatal Paterson attack rebuffs police inquiries on attorney's advice

Paul Clarke and the massive bullmastiff.
Paul Clarke and the massive bullmastiff.

PATERSON – The owner of the dog involved in last weekend’s fatal attack on a 13-year-old is not speaking with authorities about the incident.

Police say detectives want to question the man, Paul Clarke. But his attorney, Robert Galluccio, said he decided his client would be better off not being interviewed by them.

"At this point, I don't know what the police are considering,” said Galluccio. “But the mere fact that they're reaching out to my client tells me they're considering something."

Galluccio is a prominent city defense lawyer who said he has represented Clarke’s son in the past. He did not discuss details of the incident. "My client I don’t believe has done anything wrong criminally,” he said.

Neighbors have said the 115-pound bullmastiff, which was named Trigger, always seems to be left free in the yard of Clarke’s Sherwood Avenue home. The dog often barked at people, neighbors said. An attorney retained by the deceased boy’s family says the dog apparently was able to jump over the yard’s fence and chase the youths.

Authorities have not said exactly why they want to speak with Clarke. “When the tragic event of the death of a child occurs the Paterson Police Department would be derelict if we did not make it a priority to ascertain what occurred,” said Capt. Heriberto Rodriguez.

“Mr. Clarke has not once called the Paterson Police Department, has avoided any and all attempts by the Detective Bureau to communicate with him, and has now hired a lawyer that has directed him to not communicate with the Paterson Police Department,” Rodriguez said.

“Taking this into consideration I am left wondering how Mr. Clark and/or his lawyer are arriving at the conclusion Mr. Clark has not done anything wrong,” Rodriguez concluded.

Authorities say the dog killed eighth-grader Kenneth Santillan during the attack on February 28 and bit his 13-year-old friend as well. Clarke also was bitten by the dog sometime after the attack on the boys. His hands remain bandaged, according to Galluccio. Clarke stabbed the animal and authorities eventually euthanized it.

Santillan’s family has retained Fort Lee lawyer Nancy Lucianna. “It’s a horrible, horrible tragedy that should never have happened,” said Lucianna. “That dog should have never been able to jump over that fence. That dog should have never been able to get out of that yard.”

Lucianna said it was not clear yet whether the boy’s family would target the city or Clarke in a lawsuit, or both.

“We’re investigating all aspects of the case,” she said. “The family wants to make sure that their beloved son receives justice and that his death is not in vain.”

When asked about Clarke’s decision not to speak with police, Lucianna said, “I have every bit of faith that it will get a full and fair investigation.”

The city’s animal control officer, John DeCando, said he has issued two summonses against Clarke – one for having an unlicensed dog and another for allowing the dog to roam free without a leash. Galluccio said on Thursday that he was unaware of those summonses, which were being sent in the mail. “He probably hasn’t received them yet,” the lawyer said.

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